On November 18th, a proposal was made at the Occupy Oakland General Assembly to coordinate a West Coast shutdown of all the ports against EGT (Export Grain Trade) and Goldman Sachs. At the November 19th march, thousands of flyers were distributed for the December 12th shutdown. Occupy Oakland made informal links with ILWU local ten rank-file workers and President of ILWU local 21 Dan Coffman (who has been arrested 6 times fighting law enforcement during the current battles with EGT). These political connections have created an alliance with the Occupy movement and the ILWU to fight the EGT company.
In Los Angeles and Long Beach, Latino immigrant truckers have been fighting for workplace and political rights for some time with a history of having wildcat strikes (strikes with no union support). The Long Beach truckers militantly struck in 2005 against high gas prices, and 2006 with the May 1st movement, stopping a serious amount of commerce at the port of Long Beach. On April 15th 2006, independent truckers from LA called for an “immediate SALARY increase of 25%” and stated, “WE have to begin an era of strikes until the Ports and Rails enter into collective bargaining agreements with us. Until then, we must continue to form collectives at every company and support each other at the terminal, port and national levels. We ask all truck drivers to meet at the ports, rails, truck stops, and usual gathering locations.” On May 1st 2006, the truckers did just that and had a massive strike stopping incredible an amount of commodities. Several business papers took notice of the strike. The same group of truckers decided to have an action on December 12th, the birthday of the Virgin of Guadalupe in response to the 26 truckers fired for immigrant rights while sporting their Teamster jackets. Goldman Sachs was identified as the corporation connected to such attacks on the Teamsters. Through these events, we can see the build up of momentum against large corporations like Goldman Sachs and the heavy anti-union sentiment workers faced since 2006.
As momentum generated towards December 12th, the ILWU Longshore international sent multiple communications distancing themselves from this action. Political distance for some of the ILWU was a necessity, since the political structures, finances, and political positions constricted by their contract made it impossible to openly engage in the shutdown. But the bureaucracy went farther than this; they consciously attacked the December 12th action: “To be clear, the ILWU, the Coast Longshore Division and Local 21 are not coordinating independently or in conjunction with any self-proclaimed organization or group to shut down any port or terminal, particularly as it related to our dispute with EGT in Longview (Wash).” Another ILWU communication states that “[t]he ILWU considers its dispute with EGT, which is attempting to open a grain terminal in Longview, Wash., with the use of non-ILWU labor, to be a crucial issue for the union, but the ILWU does not want outside groups using that issue to attract support from the union rank and file for a ports shutdown.” But these positions do not necessarily represent the political thinking of the rank-file ILWU workers. No rank-and-file came out against the action; on the contrary, a small militant minority were actively engaged, pushing their coworkers to join the December 12th shutdown in order to give it the character of a strike within the Oakland Occupy social movement.
While the ILWU bureaucracy openly attacked December 12th, the mainstream capitalist media capitalized on their comments, publishing hundreds of articles that attempted to reinforce a division between the union and the occupy movement. The mainstream media was reporting that the “ILWU [was] asking Occupy protesters to call off the action,” but what the mainstream media did not investigate was what section of the ILWU was pushing this. Craig Merrilees, Communications Director for the ILWU, was going to meetings to tell people that December 12th was not passed through the union’s democratic process, claiming that the union was to have nothing to do with it. However, other radical rank-and-file ILWU workers commented that the international was doing the work for the capitalists, producing confusion and eliminating confidence within the movement. Occupy Oakland didn’t flinch, and moved forward with December 12th.
Mayor Jean Quan threatened the movement, stating that Occupy Oakland would not shutdown the port. December 12th, however, ended up as a partial success.
There was enough communication between ILWU local 10 and independent truckers, eventually building worker sympathy when workers respected the community picket lines at the port. However, only one ILWU rank-and-file worker was publicly engaged with the shutdown while most other port workers were passively engaged. There were too many rank-and-file longshoreman and truckers passively engaged in the movement. Speaking about port-related struggles on the bullhorns on the picket lines are effective ways to show support.
Nevertheless, as shown through the action at December 12th, mass picketing works in terms of national collaboration and security against police repression. Secretive occupations often lack forces to fight the state, but mass militant picketing on December 12th stopped police cop cars from breaking the lines. Approximately 1,000 people in the morning and 5,000 in the evening shutdown the port during two large shifts, and a later shift at 3:00 am. 500 protestors shutdown the port of Portland, with 300 people on terminal 6 and 200 people on terminal 5, and 60 people shutdown the port of Longview Washington. 800 people shutdown the port of Seattle, specifically Terminal 18, the busiest terminal, and terminal 5 with a large presence of working class youth of color blasting politicized hip- hop freestyles. Los Angeles had hundreds of people meet at 5am to shutdown the Long Beach terminal against Goldman Sachs. A report stated that Goldman Sachs stocks lost 5% of value that day. Several other ports staged solidarity actions as well, in San Diego, Houston, and Vancouver Canada.
In an article written by Cal Winslow’s December 5th Counterpunch article, Who’s Speaking for Whom: The Case of Occupy and the Longshoremen’s Union, Winslow investigates the problem of the Occupy movement politically representing the needs of union. Winslow’s overall argument assumes a deeper separation, rather than mere surface tension, between ILWU and the Occupy movement. Winslow states;
And if Occupy Oakland is serious about EGT, it can still mount a campaign against these union busters in Longview, and against Goldman Sachs, a player here, apparently, and do this in coordination with the ILWU, or do it with the longshoremen themselves. And look around, there is no shortage of battles, surely not here in California; they are all around us, on the campuses, in the hospitals, hotels, in the factories and fields. Support them…Occupy Wall Street, including Occupy Oakland, can continue to inspire the 99%, get them involved. Inspire them to be actors in history, not subjects.
The class struggle current within Occupy Oakland, conscious of the movement’s own contradiction and limitations, has been working constantly towards developing relations with workers at the port, in order for them to be their own agents of change in the movement. Occupy organizers made numerous visits to the port and ILWU local ten to build a common movement of workers and activists for the December 12th shut down. A limited but attempted coordination took place. The contrary political angle which led people like Winslow to make such an argument came from the idea that street protests equate with class struggle.
Contrary to Winslow’s argument, our comrades in Bay of Rage, who should be respected for their instrumental work in making Occupy Oakland happen and keeping the movement totally independent of the state and overtly anti-capitalist, have argued the following:
The subject of the “strike” is no longer the working class as such, though workers are always involved. The strike no longer appears only as the voluntary withdrawal of labor from a workplace by those employed there, but as the blockade, suppression (or even sabotage or destruction) of that workplace by proletarians who are alien to it, and perhaps to wage-labor entirely. We need to jettison our ideas about the “proper” subjects of the strike or class struggle.
A closer association of social movement street activity with class struggle is positive, but we feel it too easily dismisses the untapped revolutionary potential of workers at the workplace. All sectors of the working class are “proper”, but their agency must be harmonized and integrated if it should result in the construction of a democratically planned society in the future.
As folks like Winslow write off our movement for not fitting neatly in a 1930s class struggle framework, others are actualizing the potential of workplace struggle. Both sides contain a political limit in their outlook. They do not lead to a strategy of a class-wide offensive uniting “classical” workplace workers struggle with the struggle of the dispossessed. For example, the Toledo Ohio strike of 1934 organized unemployed and autoworkers in a class-wide offensive, creating a general strike. Another example was the unemployed protest in 1932 which laid down the framework for the three general strikes in 1934, San Francisco, Toledo Ohio, and Minneapolis. Instead of jumping from one favorite part of the class to privileging another sector’s agency, we should be focusing on how to build organizational vehicles within each sector (in this case employed/unemployed) and across the class as a whole (across workplaces and communities) to reconcile whatever contradictions arise in the revolutionary process.